Willingness to Fail
Jason Fried shared some great advice from Jeff Bezos about how people who are frequently right are those who often change their minds. I wanted to extend Jason’s piece with a related insight from Jeff Bezos that he shared during an internal company presentation years ago.
It was February 2009 and I was attending the quarterly Amazon company wide all-hands meeting. Amazon had just once again posted record holiday numbers and their stock price was sky rocketing. We were all waiting to hear the specifics of how incredible our numbers really were.
Jeff quietly walked on stage with the following magazine cover from Barron’s on the presentation screen.
Jeff started by saying “This article actually says Amazon is the best retailer in the world.”
He paused. Then he put up a different slide.
The new slide featured the same publication but 10 years earlier when Barron’s wrote an entire cover story on how Amazon was doomed.
“I wanted to leave this one on while I talk, because this one makes me more comfortable” Jeff said.
He continued, addressing the over confidence we all walked in with.
“When the stock is up 30% don’t feel 30% smarter, because when the stock is 30% down, you’re going to have to feel 30% dumber.”
“One of our greatest attributes is a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time if we think we are doing the right thing. If you get addicted to the first cover, all the sudden you cant do that. Willingness to be misunderstood is what allows us to invest and what allows us to fail. You can’t do experiments if you are unwilling to fail”
The logic is simple: If you are unwilling to fail, you cannot experiment and take risks. And if you cannot experiment, you cannot innovate.
This notion is directly tied to Jeff’s advice, from Jason’s article, that the people who are frequently right are those who are willing to change their opinions often. If you are unwilling to change your opinion, or be wrong, then you are unwilling to fail, and therefore unable to innovate.
It’s not that you should strive to fail but rather the willingness to fail and take risks is what will allow you to succeed. The same applies to one’s opinions; you must be willing to change your opinion to be right more often.